How Finn Got His Knack Back

There’s something we’ve known about Finn for awhile now.

Don’t worry, it’s not bad.  It’s just that we knew there was something a little different about him.  I remember back when he was two year old and making towers out of Lego Quattro blocks.  I realized he wasn’t just grabbing any blocks, he was making patterns with the block colors.  At first I thought it was just coincidence and I tried to hand him blocks that did not match the pattern.  Each time he would quickly reject my offer and go out of his way to find the block he had in mind.  Hmm…

Then he started taking toys apart.  No toy car or truck could be found in the house with all four wheels in tact.  We were starting to realize…  Finn had The Knack.

You know about The Knack, right?  If not, this less than two minute video will fill you in.  If you do know, you need to watch it anyways because the information in this Dilbert comic is pretty pivotal to the serious discussion we’re having here, okay?

(Obviously I don’t have The Knack.  If I did, this video wouldn’t be too large despite my watching several YouTube videos on how to embed YouTube videos.)

So, yes, we knew Finn was a little different.  But it was so much fun to see him tinkering around in the areas he enjoyed.  He could build Lego sets made for much older children.  He was great with patterns and numbers.

young engineers

And at least I wasn’t worried about how he would do in school!  Even though he would be one of the youngest in his class, I knew he would be fine.  After all, he was SO SMART!  Surely, school is MADE for kids who have The Knack.  Right?

Not.  So.  Much.

In Kindergarten Finn was not happy.

young engineers

I thought he would get over it.  I thought he would adjust.  Sure, he whined every day when it was time to go into school, but CERTAINLY he cheered up once he got settled in?

Nope.  He never did.  When he had his Student Of The Week poster project, his teacher told me she was surprised.  Why?  Because Finn was smiling and having a good time in the pictures.  She had never seen him smile like that.  🙁

I realized that even in Kindergarten, there was A Box That All Must Fit In.  And Finn didn’t fit in that box.  He was smooshed and miserable and fighting it every step of the way.

And in the process, Finn was losing his Knack.

Now, I don’t know that this applies to all kids with The Knack, but Finn is Stubborn.  The more he was pushed to comply with The Box, the more he fought it.  Anything that was deemed “school”, aka “learning” was rejected with animosity.  Math homework had Finn on the floor in tears, even though it was mostly very simple problems that had been so intuitive to him earlier in the year.  He no longer enjoyed puzzling over numbers and how they worked.  My former budding mathematician hated math.  The joy had been sucked out of it.

I recently read A Mathematician’s Lament, by Paul Lockhart.  Here’s a quote:  “We are losing so many potentially gifted mathematicians— creative, intelligent people who rightly reject what appears to be a meaningless and sterile subject. They are simply too smart to waste their time on such piffle.”

TIME OUT!  You remember what the Dilbert cartoon said, right?  “If an Engineer loses The Knack, the results can be devastating.”  Math is part of The Knack.  A love of learning is vital to The Knack!

This is bad.

Well, the Dilbert part was funny, but it really isn’t a joke.  It’s true.  What happens if kids like Finn, kids who don’t fit in “The Box”, are being so squashed and molded to conform that they end up saying “FORGET IT!” and leaving their talents by the wayside like a crumpled piece of notebook paper?  I imagine they would end up an angry shell of who they could have been.  And that isn’t funny in any way.  It’s tragic.

It leads me to think about the epidemic of kids who are being labeled with diagnosis codes and put on prescription medications.  Honestly I am sure plenty of doctors would have offered our family the same, if we had been so inclined to ask them their opinion on our child.   Certainly each parent is the expert on their home, and sometimes interventions are beneficial.  STILL, I wonder, how many kids are out there, taking pills to fit in, because their undiscovered brilliance and ingenuity is so astronomical it cannot fit in a One Size Fits All container???


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Well, as you know, we took Finn out of The Box.  It’s taken some time, but I’m happy to report that the old Finn is BACK and so is his Knack.  If you know Finn, you know he can be a little curmudgeonly, but I have never seen that kid so happy.  He still doesn’t care for dittos, but he loves a good math problem to solve in his head.  He insists that we all be completely quiet while he sits there figuring and pointing at  imaginary objects, until at last he jumps up and with great excitement shouts out his conclusion.  He delights in building with Legos and Snap Circuits and theorizing on how things work.

No, he will never be “normal”, but none of us are around here, so it should work out just fine.

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So, do you have a kid with The Knack or were YOU once a kid with The Knack?  What has been your experience with school?  And how do you make sure your little mathematicians and engineers keep their Love of Learning alive?

And on a less serious note, is having ALL of your Legos out on the floor REALLY a necessary part of having The Knack???

I’d love to hear from you!




  1. Linda Gillette says:

    Excellent Blog and I totally agree with you. I think too many of the children who do succeed in “the box” learn to be followers and not leaders because going out of “the box” is too scared and they have fear of failure.

    • Absolutely! It seems a lot of students end up learning “what to think” to pass the tests, at the expense of knowing “how to think” and form their own opinions.

  2. I’m so happy Finn is happy to be learning again. I loved to see how he was so interested in whatever Kenan was working on when we were there. That’s the best way to learn. Kenan was a child with “The Knack” who was smothered into the box and he’s very successful now but I wonder what could have been if he had been nutured. I don’t have “The Knack” but I truly despised school the whole 12 years and also wonder what could have been for me. Granted, we were in school 25+ years ago and things are different now, but still. I think it’s great to have the kids learn as they as individuals learn best.

    • Thanks Laura! Yes, I think it is even worse now with the smothering, since they start the pressure right away in Kindergarten. I know Finn and Kenan are kindred spirits. 🙂

  3. I love to see that smile during his out of box learning experience 🙂

    My 2 cents on learning with the Knack:
    I believe text books for those with critical and creative thinking should be different. For-instance, I will learn a new concept very quickly seeing the problem and solution simultaneously. My thoughts then begin analyzing why that answer is correct and why any other answer is wrong. Wasting my thoughts trying to determine if my answer is correct during the initial learning process just feels like wasted brain power. Most text books have one or two worked example and 20 or 30 problems. My teaching books would have 15 examples and 15 problems. I have purchased many teachers additions on books ranging from simple math to advance physics for this reason. I will also use these books as reference materials when different topics comes up in theorizing or building an physical object.

    Regarding memorizing answers…. boring! I would much rather remember how to find or calculate the answer. Understanding the principle and topic concept is a must as this provides a reality check when the answer is not what is expected. I stumbled onto this book a few months ago (Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner). Cool concepts and rounded approach for developing and honing the Knack 🙂

    Have fun with out of box learning. Kenan

    • Thanks so much for sharing your ideas! I want to check out that book. I know you will be a great mentor to Finn as he grows up. 🙂


  1. […] this picture of Finn in his room from How Finn Got His Knack Back?  Yeah, this one where he was looking really happy, surrounded by a sea of Legos and Snap […]

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